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Jackson Finds Niche in San Antonio

June 18, 1999

SAN ANTONIO (AP) _ Jaren Jackson has always kept his luggage handy and his dreams big.

Through years of playing for CBA franchises and getting cut by NBA teams, Jackson believed he could make it in professional basketball. Now he’s proving it with the San Antonio Spurs.

``Deep down, I’ve always felt that I can play in this league,″ said Jackson, whose outside shooting was a key to the Spurs’ victory in Game 1 of the NBA Finals on Wednesday.

Jackson hit five 3-pointers and scored a total of 17 points in the Spurs’ 89-77 defeat of the New York Knicks.

Jackson is no stranger to the pressure of a championship series. He played in four of them in the Continental Basketball Association and twice helped his team win a title.

``I’ve had success in other leagues, and I remember those days. I was going through playoff series. It wasn’t in the NBA, but that helped me as far as my outlook on the playoffs,″ he said Thursday.

A journeyman willing to go wherever his love for basketball takes him, the San Antonio guard looks fondly upon the lessons he’s learned.

``I’ve had my travels. I’ve been to the little towns and the big cities. I’ve been all over,″ he said. ``I always tried to envision my time in the NBA.″

As a trusted reserve for the Spurs, Jackson has found some career stability. He’s provided San Antonio with solid shooting in the playoffs before the Game 1 victory.

On the road against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals, Jackson scored a career playoff high 22 points in Game 3 and followed up with 20 points in Game 4.

Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy said Jackson’s 17 points hurt New York more than Tim Duncan’s 33 points Wednesday. It’s expected that Duncan will have a big game. But Van Gundy doesn’t want to let the Spurs’ supporting players do the same.

``We’ve got to find a way to keep the other guys out of the game. We did that with some of the guys. We didn’t do a good enough job on Jaren Jackson,″ Van Gundy said.

Jackson made half of his 10 3-point attempts. His biggest basket came with 8:10 left in the game after the Knicks closed to 74-68.

Closely guarded in the corner, with the shot clock running down, Jackson hit a 3-pointer as he nearly tumbled out of bounds. It stopped New York’s last rally.

Jackson joined the Spurs before the 1997-98 season after having played for seven other NBA teams. He played college basketball at Georgetown, graduating in 1989.

Jackson wasn’t drafted by an NBA team. New Jersey signed him as a free agent shortly after college and waived him a few months later. Then he played in the Continental Basketball Association with Wichita Falls in Texas and La Crosse in Wisconsin, winning a championship with each team.

He also played in Pittsburgh and Fort Wayne, Ind., in the CBA and for the Dayton Wings in Ohio in the WBL, a small summer league.

Once he established himself in the minor leagues, Jackson began to land contracts in the NBA. He played for Golden State, Portland, Philadelphia, Houston, Washington and the Los Angeles Clippers. He was signed by Chicago before the 1993-94 season, but was waived before the regular season.

Jackson and fellow Spurs guards Mario Elie and Avery Johnson often joke about their lengthy resumes.

``Everybody knows the story about how A.J. was cut by the Spurs once, the Spurs twice. We try to joke about that moment when the coach is telling you you’re gone,″ he said. ``If it happens, you’ve got to move on.″

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he’s thrilled for Jackson that the situation in San Antonio has worked out.

``You have to respect the fact that he continued, that he never stopped trying to get it right,″ Popovich said.

If basketball hadn’t been an option, Jackson said, he never doubted he could make a living in the ``real world.″ He earned a degree in finance. His wife, Terri, also a Georgetown graduate, is a lawyer. An avid reader, Jackson said he enjoyed school and that he would like to eventually return for more education.

With the Spurs, Jackson became a starter last season and had the same role early this season before Popovich replaced him with Elie and decided Jackson would be more effective as a reserve.

Because the Spurs are anchored by big men Duncan and David Robinson, the squad needs outside shooters like Jackson more so than a smaller team might, Jackson said.

Jackson, who becomes a free agent after this season, said he enjoys San Antonio and finally feels at home. Right now, he’s concentrating on the NBA Finals. Whether he has a future with the Spurs isn’t definite.

As always, his luggage is waiting.

``I’m not going to count my chickens yet,″ he said.

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